And the famine [was] sore in the land.
We start off on an ominous note, with the land (‘erets ) being oppressed (kabed) with famine (ra`ab). Sounds grim. Yet, with hindsight, we realize God’s hand of mercy in all this. If the famine had been lighter, Jacob might’ve been tempted to abandon Simeon to save Benjamin, and missed Joseph entirely. As it is — as so often happens — suffering is the goad that forces him to confront his worst fears:
And it came to pass, when they had eaten up the corn which they had brought out of Egypt, their father said unto them, Go again, buy us a little food.
But in order to get what he desires, he must give up what he loves. Interestingly, this time it is Judah Y@huwdah, praised) who speaks the unpleasant truth:
And Judah spake unto him, saying, The man did solemnly protest unto us, saying, Ye shall not see my face, except your brother [be] with you.
and delivers an ultimatum:
If thou wilt send our brother with us, we will go down and buy thee food: But if thou wilt not send [him], we will not go down: for the man said unto us, Ye shall not see my face, except your brother [be] with you.
Judah’s promise mirrors Reuben’s, though perhaps less dramatic and more sincere:
And Judah said unto Israel his father, Send the lad with me, and we will arise and go; that we may live, and not die, both we, and thou, [and] also our little ones. I will be surety for him; of my hand shalt thou require him: if I bring him not unto thee, and set him before thee, then let me bear the blame for ever:
Somehow this gets through to Jacob, who accedes — conditionally:
And their father Israel said unto them, If [it must be] so now, do this; take of the best fruits in the land in your vessels, and carry down the man a present, a little balm, and a little honey, spices, and myrrh, nuts, and almonds: And take double money in your hand; and the money that was brought again in the mouth of your sacks, carry [it] again in your hand; peradventure it [was] an oversight:
Probably a wise move, though an interesting echo of his attempt to bribe Esau’s affections. What’s more impressive is his release of Benjamin, and apparently of Judah:
Take also your brother, and arise, go again unto the man: And God Almighty give you mercy before the man, that he may send away your other brother, and Benjamin. If I be bereaved [of my children], I am bereaved.
I read this as Jacob entrusting Benjamin to the mercy (racham) of God (‘el), and being willing to bear the consequences himself rather than hold Judah responsible. He even remembers poor Simeon, who seemed at risk of being left behind.
And the men took that present, and they took double money in their hand, and Benjamin; and rose up, and went down to Egypt, and stood before Joseph.
Joseph must’ve been hoping and praying that they would return and bring Benjamin — rather than give up or call his bluff, assuming it was one. Being Joseph, I’m sure he had a plan all laid out, which he is quick to implement:
And when Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to the ruler of his house, Bring [these] men home, and slay, and make ready; for [these] men shall dine with me at noon.
As usual, his brothers are freaked out about this:
And the men were afraid, because they were brought into Joseph’s house; and they said, Because of the money that was returned in our sacks at the first time are we brought in; that he may seek occasion against us, and fall upon us, and take us for bondmen, and our asses.
And they came near to the steward of Joseph’s house, and they communed with him at the door of the house,
to make sure he knows their side of the story:
And said, O sir, we came indeed down at the first time to buy food: And it came to pass, when we came to the inn, that we opened our sacks, and, behold, [every] man’s money [was] in the mouth of his sack, our money in full weight: and we have brought it again in our hand. And other money have we brought down in our hands to buy food: we cannot tell who put our money in our sacks.
The steward appears to have been well briefed by Joseph on how to respond:
And he said, Peace [be] to you, fear not: your God, and the God of your father, hath given you treasure in your sacks: I had your money. And he brought Simeon out unto them.
Interesting; it almost sounds like Simeon’s return was contingent on their honest confession, though that’s probably reading in too much. It is interesting how Joseph gives glory to God for the money (keceph); which I suppose is true, though not at all the way the brothers must’ve thought.
After they settle in and presumably calm down:
And the man brought the men into Joseph’s house, and gave [them] water, and they washed their feet; and he gave their asses provender.
they greet Joseph with suitable honor:
And when Joseph came home, they brought him the present which [was] in their hand into the house, and bowed themselves to him to the earth.
He then satisfies his curiosity — I suspect he didn’t really interact with them closely when they first arrived:
And he asked them of [their] welfare, and said, [Is] your father well, the old man of whom ye spake? [Is] he yet alive? And they answered, Thy servant our father [is] in good health, he [is] yet alive. And they bowed down their heads, and made obeisance.
Only then, perhaps when they’re bowed down, does he allow himself to search out his brother:
And he lifted up his eyes, and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother’s son, and said, [Is] this your younger brother, of whom ye spake unto me? And he said, God be gracious unto thee, my son.
Which is more than he can contain (‘aphaq):
And Joseph made haste; for his bowels did yearn upon his brother: and he sought [where] to weep; and he entered into [his] chamber, and wept there. And he washed his face, and went out, and refrained himself, and said, Set on bread.
I must admit, this makes me respect Joseph more. He’s not retreating into intellectual manipulation, but responding with deep passion. Though he does still seem to enjoy playing with their minds:
And they sat before him, the firstborn according to his birthright, and the youngest according to his youth: and the men marvelled one at another.
And he took [and sent] messes unto them from before him: but Benjamin’s mess was five times so much as any of theirs. And they drank, and were merry with him.
The brothers apparently get drunk (shakar) on their good fortune, perhaps believing this their happy ending. But they would be wrong — on more than on count
God, this passage seems to start sad and end happy, yet in many ways the opposite is true. The early suffering is the door to your mercy, and the later drunken joy just a setup for an even greater trial. I get the feeling that our feelings are not very useful guides to understanding circumstances! Yet, at the same time, Joseph’s feelings are what connect him to his brother and father, and ultimately motivate the redemption of his entire family. Maybe the bottom line is simply that I need to trust you with my feelings, as well as my dreams, that you may use both to lead me into your presence. So be it, Lord. Amen.
About the Title:
Today’s title allusion is rather lame reference to Bennigan’s grill and tavern, mostly because it sounds nice. Also, in this case Joseph’s “tavern” really is a place where everyone knows their name — though they don’t know his.